Experts warn young Albertans to stick to health guidelines as Canada Day approaches

Health officials first warned of an increase in young adults testing positive for COVID-19 earlier this month. Doctors are keeping a close eye on the trend as restrictions continue to ease and Albertans ponder their Canada Day plans.

Roughly half of Alberta's active COVID-19 cases are in adults between 20 and 39 years of age

Alberta Health Services employees speak with a drivers at a drive-thru testing facility in Calgary, Alta., Friday, March 27, 2020. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

Experts are keeping a close eye on the growing number of young adults testing positive for COVID-19 in Alberta, particularly as Canada Day approaches

Nearly half of Alberta's active cases are in people between the ages of 20 and 39 currently (272 of Alberta's 559 active cases).

Alberta's chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, started warning about the trend  earlier this month as the province continued to re-open.

She noted a common thread in the cases — many young people had been infected during social gatherings and parties where food and drinks were shared.  She repeated her warning last week.

"COVID-19 loves a party so we can't let our guard down,"  she said, urging Albertans to continue to follow public health guidelines.

Even still the province announced Tuesday morning — on the eve of Canada Day — that its raising the outdoor gathering restrictions from 100 people to 200 people.

"The virus takes advantage of wherever people get together," said Dr. Chris Mody, head of the department of microbiology, immunology and infectious diseases at the University of Calgary

"I think we're going to see more younger people being diagnosed with COVID-19 because as we lift restrictions — those restrictions are being lifted in a way that protects the older age populations and releases restrictions for younger people. So social activities are now permitted, people are returning to work, people are out in the community now, and the people out in the community are the younger people."

Alberta Health raised its gathering restrictions for outdoor celebrations from 100 to 200, in advance of Canada Day celebrations. Experts are urging all Albertans to be cautious as they celebrate. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

Message not getting through

University of Alberta infectious disease specialist, Dr. Lynora Saxinger, says while many young adults won't get very sick, there is still a risk.

Of the 41 Albertans hospitalized for COVID-19, four of them are between the ages of 20 and 39.

The key concern is that young Albertans could become infected and spread the virus to those who are more vulnerable — particularly older people and those with underlying health conditions.

Saxinger worries the standard public health messaging isn't getting through to young adults.

"Maybe we're not getting the message to the right place...I don't think anyone's trying to endanger anyone. But I don't think we're getting the message to the right place"

She's also concerned about the uptick in COVID-19 cases in recent days. Alberta reported 71 new cases on Monday.

"I wouldn't say that I think things are completely out of control but they seem to be simmering up. And I think a lot of us are just anxious that people might be accelerating the return to normal a little too bit quickly," she said.

Mody says adhering to public health restrictions during Canada Day celebrations will be key to preventing a further spike in cases.

"We all bring our own food. We all stay two metres apart from one another and all of the public health measures related to what we're supposed to do. That's not like a Canada Day that I've ever experienced before. But that's what we're going to have to do," he said.

"I think in the next two weeks we'll see whether that 70 is a new plateau or whether in places  — like the U.S. or India or Brazil — it's turning into a mountain."

About the Author

Jennifer Lee


Jennifer Lee is a CBC News reporter based in Calgary. She worked at CBC Toronto, Saskatoon and Regina, before landing in Calgary in 2002. If you have a health or human interest story to share, let her know.


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